Review: ‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe,’ ‘Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes’ and more movies
‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe’
Gen-X kids, prepare to feel old: It has been more than 25 years since the movie “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America” premiered. In the decades since, Mike Judge — the inventor and the voice of the perpetually chuckling animated duo — has gained renown as one of our sharpest social satirists, thanks to movies like “Office Space” and “Idiocracy” and the TV series “Silicon Valley.” Yet what’s so wonderful about the sequel “Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” is that Judge does nothing to make his most famous creation any more sophisticated — visually or comedically. His new movie is gloriously, hilariously crude.
“Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe” works just fine as a feature-length introduction to the title duo: two hyper-hormonal Texas teens who see double entendres everywhere and are easily distracted by violence (especially when they goad each other into it). Judge brings the kids into the present day via an endearingly goofy plot that has them launching into space circa 1998 and traveling through a wormhole to 2022, where they adapt surprisingly quickly to a world of iPhones — a device they use to pay for nachos and to ask the virtual assistant Siri questions about sex.
Judge squeezes in a little social commentary on how American society — past and present — contorts itself to accommodate a couple of white dudes, even when they’re total morons. But this movie isn’t trying to be another “Idiocracy.” It takes a simple story — Beavis and Butt-Head traveling through time and space, convinced they’re on the verge of losing their virginity — and packs it with jokes about testicular injury and masturbation, along with some affectionate musing on the inherent absurdity of these eternally unchanging boys. Though the movie rockets Judge’s doltish heroes into the future, it feels like a charming artifact from the past.
‘Beavis and Butt-Head Do the Universe.’ TV-14 ,for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and violence. 1 hour, 26 minutes. Available on Paramount+
‘Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes’
HBO’s Emmy-winning 2019 miniseries “Chernobyl” was a riveting and resonant dramatization of the infamous 1986 Soviet nuclear meltdown, detailing how the disaster was provoked and compounded by the government’s unwillingness to admit to any failures. James Jones’ documentary “Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes” — also available on HBO — is an excellent complement, both reinforcing the series’ observations and offering insights into how the citizenry dealt with a looming catastrophe that no one in charge would honestly acknowledge.
Jones takes new testimony from the survivors and layers it in voice-over (serving as the narration) atop newly recovered footage from the weeks and months following the power plant explosions. Much of the video and film from in and around Chernobyl itself was shot by government officials, looking for reassuring images to transmit worldwide. Instead, these scenes of clean-up crews jovially headed to their doom and residents of neighboring cities pushing baby strollers in the radiation-saturated outdoors prove haunting — a vivid portrait of the human cost for malfeasance and authoritarianism.
‘Chernobyl: The Lost Tapes.’ TV-MA, for violence, brief nudity, adult content and adult language. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on HBO Max
‘Civil: Ben Crump’
Nadia Hallgren’s documentary “Civil: Ben Crump” is a biographical sketch of a prominent personal injury attorney who has made his reputation representing the families of Black victims of police and vigilante violence. It’s also a fly-on-the-wall look at a very busy 2020 and ’21 for Crump, as he fought for the relatives of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to win compensation for their losses.
The film is unapologetically pro-Crump, with only passing acknowledgement of his critics, most of whom are right-wing pundits who paint him as a cynical opportunist whipping up outrage. Mostly, this is a fascinatingly detailed look at the hard work Crump’s team does to build effective cases, even for people who don’t land in the national headlines. It presents some thoughtful perspectives, both from the dedicated litigator and a community conditioned to expect disappointment from the criminal justice system — and a last chance at fairness in the civil courts.
‘Civil: Ben Crump.’ PG-13, for thematic material and strong language. 1 hour, 41 minutes. Available on Netflix
A party game tests the bonds between old friends in “Gatlopp,” a horror-comedy with sly supernatural elements. Jim Mahoney (who also wrote the screenplay) plays Paul, a soon-to-be-divorced Angeleno who plays a boozy board game with three buddies he hasn’t hung out with in a while: jovial DJ and club promoter Cliff (Jon Bass), struggling actor Troy (Sarunas J. Jackson) and thriving TV producer Samantha (Emmy Raver-Lampman). As they play Gatlopp — the Swedish word for “gauntlet,” according to Cliff — they gradually notice the mix of trivia questions and “truth or dare” challenges is pushing them to be more honest about their past mistakes and betrayals, at the risk of demonic punishment.
Mahoney, director Alberto Belli and a cast of skilled comic actors keep the vibe light and likable even as the situation grows more dire. “Gatlopp” is too short to explore all the comic and dramatic possibilities of the game itself, and the heroes’ revelations and regrets don’t stray too far from the fairly run-of-the-mill problems of aspiring Hollywood players. But the filmmakers get more tension and even emotion out of this premise than most movies of this type do, mainly by treating the characters as multidimensional people who deserve a shot at redemption, and not like voodoo dolls ripe for the poking.
‘Gatlopp.’ Not rated. 1 hour, 20 minutes. Available on VOD
The indie drama “Press Play” comes across like a hybrid of “Somewhere in Time” and a hip teen romance, with an emphasis on how the emotional pull of pop music can literally jolt a listener into the past. Clara Regard plays Laura, a young artist who has a summer fling with Harrison (Lewis Pullman), a record store clerk who suffers a terrible accident. With the aid of a mixtape she made with Harrison, Laura discovers she can jump to the moments when they originally chose the tape’s songs. She tries to use those brief bursts of temporal displacement to warn her boyfriend about his fate.
Director Greg Björkman (who co-wrote the screenplay with James Bachelor, from a Josh Boone story idea) plays a little too loose with the metaphysics of the movie’s premise; and the main characters’ complicated family and friend relationships make untangling the past and present unnecessarily confusing at times. But between its lovely Hawaii setting, its well-chosen indie-pop soundtrack and its earnest belief in the life-changing power of a great song, “Press Play” is pretty pleasant. It’s soft and breezy — the cinematic equivalent of yacht rock.
‘Press Play.’ PG-13, for some drug use and brief suggestive material. 1 hour, 25 minutes. Available in select theaters and on VOD
‘Murder at Yellowstone City’
The disappointing western-mystery hybrid “Murder at Yellowstone City” strands an excellent cast in a slow-paced story with a muted tone, too far removed from its pulpy inspirations. Thomas Jane and Anna Camp play a minister and his wife in an 1881 Montana gold-mining town, where the arrival of a former slave (Isaiah Mustafa) and the death of a local prospector end up pitting the righteous against the violent bigots, led by the sheriff (Gabriel Byrne) and his son (Nat Wolff). Director Richard Gray and writer Eric Belgau do a fine job of world-building, establishing Yellowstone City as a haven for dreamers and misfits of all ethnicities and inclinations — including a gay saloonkeeper played by Richard Dreyfuss. But their movie takes itself way too seriously, plodding through a lot of long scenes where the characters mostly talk about themselves, thus sapping the actual plot of the attention and energy it needs.
‘Murder at Yellowstone City.’ Not rated. 2 hours, 6 minutes. Available in select theaters and on VOD
“Downton Abbey: A New Era” offers a few new adventures for the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants as they deal with an unexpected inheritance and the arrival of a troubled film production at their lavish estate in 1928. Like the TV series, this second “Downton Abbey” movie packs in a lot of plot and characters before efficiently tying everything together with a succession of genuinely moving farewells. Available on Peacock
Available now on DVD and Blu-ray
“After Yang” is a poignant science-fiction drama from writer-director Kogonada, adapting an Alexander Weinstein short story about how a family copes with its malfunctioning robot son. Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith play the android’s human “parents,” whose efforts to understand and repair Yang raise philosophical questions about what it means to live and die. Lionsgate
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